One of my New Year’s resolutions, as well as one of my promises after my 100th post was that I needed to start writing more about Lancaster, since that’s where I’ve been living for the past (almost) four years. One common misconception is that Lancaster is simply a rural county best known for the Amish. While this is definitely based in reality, Lancaster city, where I reside is a decent sized city that shares it’s name with the county that it’s the seat of. Down here, people will outright refer to it as Lancaster City in order to prevent confusion with the surrounding countryside.
When I first moved down here I was surprised at how built up the entire county is. The city itself is vibrant, surprisingly liberal (especially considering how conservative the rest of the county is), progressive and has tremendous pride for itself. Downtown, where I live is filled with stores, shops, and bars and it’s rarity to see a failing store front or boarded up corner pub, which in itself is somewhat of a feat in Pennsylvania.
You may find yourself in Lancaster for a variety of reasons, from checking out how the Amish live to hiking and outdoor recreation or even for a concert either here in Lancaster or nearby Hershey. Even if you don’t see yourself visiting Lancaster in the future (which I’d advise you to reconsider),chances are, if you’re in the business field you might find yourself here sometime soon. Lancaster has a ton of big companies and corporations and hosts a lot of conferences. Lancaster city has a fun and interesting bar scene, so I figured I’d put together a post outlining, in my opinion, which ones are best.
I’m limiting this list to the bars that are located in Lancaster’s downtown area. There’s plenty of good places in the outlying parts of the city and suburbs, but I wanted a list that was entirely walkable (if you had all day). There’s several places that are heavily associated with Lancaster that I’m leaving off because I’ve either never been there or wouldn’t recommend someone go there for whatever reason. I’m not going to trash anywhere in this post, except for the Village. If someone asks you to go there, tell them no, unless going through a metal detector in order to drink is your idea of a good time.
*This list is in no particular order, but I have included addresses so that you could map out what works for you.
25 W. King St.
Springhouse is one of my favorite places to start the night because of it’s central location and it’s delicious (but strong) beer. Springhouse is a brewing company located in Conestoga PA which opened up its Tap House about two years ago. Springhouse is a microbrewery which only serves it’s own brews, and some guest microbrews. They serve wine but don’t have any liquor and like any good microbrew will let you taste something before ordering it. You could also get a sampler for 6 and they have a small bar menu. I especially like the Chocolate Peanut Butter stout and the Pumpkin beer when it’s in season. Points for having the only shuffle board table in the city.
28-30 King St. Lancaster PA
Annie Bailey’s is one of the city’s more popular watering holes and also located on King Street, arguably the center of commerce in the city. Annie Bailey’s is an Irish Pub. As I’m somewhat of an admitted Irish Pub snob, my first impression wasn’t stellar. I found it generic, sort of like Kildares, with the whole “Irish Pub” moniker but with little to back it up in terms of authenticity. However they do serve good Irish food from what I’m told (I’ve never done dinner there, only the bar menu), and have all the requisite drinks on tap. As I’ve gotten older and wiser I realize that not every Irish pub could survive playing Irish tunes on a Friday night, and I’m probably the only one who wants to hear some Clancy Brothers, so I’ve cut them some slack (plus they always have Irish music in the bathrooms). They do have traditional Irish musical sessions (which I’ve regrettable not been to attend) and even do their own brewfest. Annie Baileys has great happy hour deals (including a bunch where you get to take your glass home), a large bar, upstairs bar, and a great back deck in the summer. I’ve only had appetizers at the bar but hear that the dinners are amazing and could attest that the Cheesesteak Spring Rolls are borderline lifechanging.
201 N Queen St.
Federal Tap House is Lancaster’s newest bar and what I suspect will be the trendiest place to be this summer. It just opened a few weeks ago and I actually haven’t been able to get there yet even though it’s on my block. I have been to the Harrisburg location before for dinner and did walk through the other night to check it out but didn’t stay because of how crowded it was. Federal Tap House’s claim to fame is it’s selection of over 100 different beers and will start to bring in musical performances in the future
7 Marion Ct. Lancaster PA
After hearing people sing Marion Court’s praises for so long, I was embarrassed to finally find out where it was this past spring. Embarassed, because it’s a block and a half from where I live, tucked into an alleyway. This allows the bar to utilize that space for a sprawling outdoor area. The bar is big and gets packed at night but is a great place if you want to stay outdoors. Every Sunday they have bands. In the winter it’s strictly indoors and very smoky.
33 N Market St.
The Lancaster Dispensing Company is a cool little bar tucked into a pedestrians only brick alley surrounding Lancaster’s famed Central Market, and just steps away from Spring House. It’s a small bar that gets packed pretty easily and doesn’t have much standing room if it’s crowded. It’s not a bad place to grab a drink and some food and they do get pretty good musical acts, but think acoustic rather than cover bands.
449 W Lemon St.
Brendees is a good old fashioned neighborhood Irish Pub located a few blocks away from what’s considered downtown, but I’m including it because it’s one of my favorite places to go. Brendees is somewhere to go to actually let loose and relax, rather than meet people or find something trendy. It tends to get smokey and loud, but in the best types of way, and has music powered by a jukebox (rare find in Lanc) and cheap drafts.
448 W Lemon St.
I respect a bar without a website. I’d categorize Hildy’s as more of a dive than a neighborhood bar. It’s located in the same neighborhood as Brendees near F&M. It’s also smokey, loud, and dark (Brendees is well lit) with cheap beer and good people watching. During the school year it gets a lot of college kids and is the only bar I’ve ever been to where multiple people have come in a checked their skateboards. Take that as you will.
254 East Frederick St.
Stubby’s is another tiny neighborhood bar whose standout feature, at least to me, is it’s phenomenal bar food. I can’t recommend their crab dip, buffalo chicken sliders, or crab burger enough. I usually hit up Stubby’s around dinnertime and can’t really comment on the size of type of crowd it gets at night. I do know their kitchen is open till 1:30 if you get a late night craving for something better than Wawa (rhetorical question: is there late night food better than Wawa?).
302 N Plum St.
I’m a big fan of Lancaster Brewing Company, the other microbrewery in town. It’s definitely more of a daytime/happyhour/weeknight drinking locale and doesn’t get too crazy on weekend nights, but that’s not a complaint. The beer is good (Milk Stout, Strawberry Wheat, and Celtic Cross are my personal picks), the wings are good and nightly food specials are really economical. One thing I like is that the staff has always been super friendly and helpful when I’ve been there, which isn’t always my experience with microbreweries or taphouses. The building itself is really cool, an old brick warehouse style affair and they’ve recently opened a large outdoor patio.
457 N Holland Ave
I’ve only been to Quips a handful of times but have have good memories of the place. My first time was after a happy hour gone bad (when you’re planning on doing happy hour and then going home, but end up drunk and still dressed for work at last call) where I decided it was a good idea to drink table wine (aka: wine someone left at a table..don’t judge) and another standout was this year when work got cancelled ue to Hurriance Irene which bypassed Lancaster completely. I went to Quips for dinner and ended up staying for what seemed like forever learning how to play darts (yes, it took me until this year to learn how to play darts). Quips is an English style pub down the block from Lancaster Brewing Company that looks like an old house, very NEPA of it. Quips is also small and crowded but in a good way. They have a lot of European beer on tap if that’s your thing and a lot of people rave over their wings, which are good, I just don’t love a breaded wing.
915 Plum St.
This first time I went to 915 I was actually sort of apprehensive. It’s not in the best section of town and from the outside is a pretty Spartan. I expected a lot of regulars to all turn their heads and stare (much like at Q’s on Liberty…check that out for a scare) but was pleasantly surprised to find a really nice neighborhood/sports bar inside. 915 Café is one of the better bars in Lancaster for being able to sit and converse with friends. The atmosphere is casual, and the music (jukebox) isn’t overwhelming. The wait staff is friendly, and I’ve spent a few good nights essentially BSing with friends, having some rounds of staff-recommended shots and scarfing down some of their excellent wings.
834 N Plum St
Rumplebrewskins is the bar in Lancaster which most reminds me of being home in NEPA. It’s low key, small, no frills, and gets a young, rambunctious crowd. They have my favorite wings in Lancaster, barbeque buffalo, and is probably the best place to go if you don’t want to spend a ton of money but still have a good time.
1081 N. Plum St.
American Bar and Grill, 915 Café, and Rumplebrewskins are all located within a block of each other and make up a nice mini bar crawl. I’ve been to American Bar and Grill (or what locals call ABG or ABag) the least of all these bars but have a had a good time whenever I’ve been there. From what I hear, it has a little bit of a punk vibe and gets bands that reflect that and does have pretty good food.
**If you want to venture outside the city, check out my Lancaster Beer Trail post. There’s a ton of microbreweries in the area if you don’t mind driving. You can also check out this new website I found, which details all the beer selections in nearby York.